A major forest fire in New Zealand may continue for weeks, but it has moved away from inhabited areas, which should allow the return of evacuee residents, said Monday the firefighters. About 3,000 inhabitants of Wakefield,
near Nelson, in the north of the South Island, were ordered to leave on Saturday because the flames were only two kilometers away from home.
The fire was declared last week, in a context of high heat. More than 2,300 hectares on Monday had burned. John Sutton, a fire chief, said that despite improving conditions, it was still too early to say that the fire was under control.
No injuries reported
"The heat is still very strong and there are still many areas that have not burned," he told reporters. "These fires will mobilize firefighters until March," he predicted. Roger Ball, Regional Head of Civil Protection, said residents of Wakefield could return Monday night, although the area remains under surveillance.
"Residents must understand and accept that they must be ready to evacuate again if conditions change," he said. The main fire probably started accidentally, but there were also two voluntary but less important fire starts. Only one house was destroyed by the flames that did not cause any injuries at this stage.